by Andrea Baquero-Degwitz
Due to recent events at Ferguson and “Black Lives Matter” protests, it is clear that, while the United States has made substantial progress on solving the issue of racial inequality, the problem still plagues American society today.
On Thursday, March 18, students gathered in McGuinn 121 for the fourth annual Veritas Forum to hear Harvard University’s Nancy E. Hill and Boston College’s Alan Wolfe, Ph. D., present diverging perspectives on the question: “Can we have Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream without his faith?” The discussion, co-sponsored by BC Alive – InterVarsity Asian Christian Fellowship and the St. Thomas More Society, sought to challenge the attendees’ faiths by “connecting truth to our hardest questions and deepest beliefs.” Daniel Lyons, Associate Professor at the Boston College Law School, moderated the event.
Nancy E. Hill is a professor of education and the Suzanne Young Murray Professor at Harvard University’s Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Studies. As a devoted Christian, Professor Hill argued that Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream was intricately linked to his Christian faith and trust in God.
According to Professor Hill, as Martin Luther King Jr. pursued his dream of racial equality with nonviolent resistance, the reverend followed the example of love and sacrifice set by Jesus Christ, who loved his enemies, prayed for those that persecuted Him, and died for Hi love of not only His friends, but also His enemies.
“For Martin Luther King, nonviolent resistance would ultimately win the day because that’s what the creator of the universe set in place as a model for human flourishing and to create that love that is more powerful than hate,” said Professor Hill. “ If we remove the faith foundations of those beliefs, we can pursue nonviolence resistance and reconciliation but we will do so without the ultimate conviction that love will ultimately triumph over all.”
On the other hand, Dr. Alan Wolfe, a Professor of Political Science and Director of the Boisi Center for Religion and American Public Life at Boston College, maintained that while King might have been influenced by Christianity, the Christian religion was not the only source to inspire King and his quest for racial equality. Thus, in order to understand the complexity of King’s dream, one cannot focus too much one religion and ignore the other influences.
“I don’t think he could ever have become the leader that every American of every race sees him to be without that generosity of spirit that came from having so many religious influences,” said Dr. Wolfe. “Let’s not restrict King to one religion; let’s recognize him as being inclusive towards anyone.”
For Dr. Wolfe, Martin Luther King also drew inspiration from the Ancient Greeks, the Enlightenment thinkers, the Jews and the Hebrew Old Testament, and Mahatma Gandhi. These sources are not affiliated with Christianity.
Ultimately, both Professor Hill and Dr. Wolfe agreed that more measures should to be taken in order to eradicate both conscious and unconscious racism. American society needs to alter its socialization, worldviews, and institutions to truly overcome this issue.
For example, the lack of racial diversity exists as a crucial problem at Boston College. While he takes pride in Boston College’s Catholic identity, Dr. Wolfe believes that because BC is a Catholic institution, this affects the university’s white and black racial diversity due to the fact that there are fewer African American Catholics.
“I think Boston College, at least with respects to the black and white issue, just has special problems,” said Dr. Wolfe. “I believe they are doing everything they can to overcome them, but it’s a tough job.”